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Sputnik fragment makes for a town party

By Keith Cowing
September 8, 2007

Reader note: From: “M R K” Manitowoc Wisconsin, 45 years ago: “…The hunk had been embedded three inches deep into the asphalt of 8th Street, just off the center line, for an hour before patrolmen Marvin Bauch and Ronald Rusboldt noticed it from their squad car…. They thought that it was a piece of cardboard and ignored it. An hour later they noticed it again, stopped to move it, and found that it was too hot to touch. They then thought that it was a piece of slag from a local foundry that had fallen out of a dump truck. They kicked it to the curb. It wasn’t until noon that Bauch and Rusboldt associated what they had seen with the reported breakup of Sputnik. They returned to the spot and found it, still in the gutter, more than seven hours after it had fallen. A check at the fire department with a Geiger counter showed no radioactivity, so the lump was shipped to the Smithsonian….”

Launched on May 15, 1960, and called by the West as “Sputnik 4” it was supposed to be a 4 day flight. Well, the Vostok test capsule had a problem with the IR sensor and thus it’s retros fired rearward, pushing the capsule into a higher orbit, where it stayed until 1962. Evidently, it was the metric threads and unusual iron oxides that were caused by the heat of reentry that confirmed its origin, and it was then shipped back to the Russians, but not before 2 replicas were made, both of which are in Manitowoc.

A local shop owner is planning to celebrate this event next year (September 5 & 6 2008). Something tells me that this could be both fun and educational. Hey, does anyone from NASA, DOD or Korolev RSC Energia have any interesting items they may want to display?

Editor’s note: Wouldn’t it be something if people knew that by sending things like this to NASA that they might get a response … and that maybe their space agency might spend a moment with them.

People will celebrate NASA’s accomplishments without any input from NASA. For that matter they will celebrate space events from all nations in their own way if the urge strikes them to do so.

But NASA ignores little things like this. They focus instead on large media markets and places where they can affect Congressional behavior. To be honest and pragmatic, that may be a wiser and more strategic use of limited funds. But it does serve to further isolate the agency from many of the people who pay for its operations at the same time.

The challenge right now for NASA is how to become part of these events – little as well as big – even if only from a distance – so as to show that the agency is still relevant. Not to do so serves to prove the contrary.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.